Federal Agencies Take Aim At Businesses, Benefit Plan Fiduciaries & Service Providers & Others With Lax CyberSecurity & CyberBreach Compliance; Build Defenses By Strengthening Internal & External Controls & Risk Managment

October 19, 2021

Businesses, their employee benefit plan fiduciaries, their employer and other sponsors, their record keepers, financial advisors and other service providers and other business partners face growing pressure to shore up cyber security and cyber breach compliance and other safeguards to defend against a slew of  new and ongoing federal cyber security and breach regulatory and enforcement the Biden-Harris Administration is rolling out in its effort to stem the rising tide of  cybersecurity incidents.

Agencies Targeting Businesses, US Entities & Their Leaders For CyberSecurity & CyberBreach Regulation & Enforcement

On October 6, 2021, Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco announced plans to civilly prosecute federal government contractors that fail to follow required cyber security standards under the False Claims Act under a new Civil Cyber-Fraud Initiative to be led by DOJ’s Civil Division’s Commercial Litigation Branch, Fraud Section.  While adding new exposures to the already substantial exposures  federal government contractors and grant recipients already face for failing to comply with applicable cybersecurity and cyberbreach notifications under federal and state laws, the Civil Cyber-Fraud Initiative also provides more evidence that the Biden-Harris Administration is serious about moving forward on its broader strategy to stem the recurrent waves of disruptive cyber breaches and other security incidents buffeting U.S. public and private institutions and citizens by ramping up cybersecurity regulations, oversight and enforcement against all U.S. organizations.   See e.g., New DOJ Civil Cyber-Fraud Initiative Pressures Federal Contractors & Grant Recipients To Tighten Cybersecurity Controls, Training & Other Safeguards. May 12, 2021 Executive Order on Improving the Nation’s Cybersecurity; July 28, 2021 National Security Memorandum on Improving Cybersecurity for Critical Infrastructure Control Systems.

The DOJ Civil Cyber-Fraud Initiative is the latest in a growing list of new regulatory and enforcement programs placing pressure on U.S. businesses and their leaders to get serious about cybersecurity.  Examples of some of the more far reaching of these new or continuing programs include:

  • Government Contractors. 

Under the Civil Cyber-Fraud Initiative, DOJ plans to use the False Claims Act to prosecute pursue cyber security related fraud by government contractors and grant recipients.  According to DOJ, the initiative will hold accountable entities or individuals that put U.S. information or systems at risk by knowingly providing deficient cyber security products or services, knowingly misrepresenting their cyber security practices or protocols, or knowingly violating obligations to monitor and report cyber security incidents and breaches. Federal contractors and grant recipients submitting claims for federal funds will be considered to have filed a false claim in violation of the False Claims Act if their cyber security and cyber breach practices are not compliant with applicable federal requirements when the payment is requested.

  • Federal Health Program Participating Health Care Providers And Plans. 

The DOJ Cyber-Fraud Initiative follows a similar interpretation of the Department of Health & Human Services (“HHS”) Office Inspector General (“OIG”) about the cybersecurity and cyberbreach compliance requirements health care providers and health plan issuers participating in Medicare and certain other federally funded health care programs (“Medicare Participating Providers”) are accountable to meet under the Conditions of Participation for those programs.  HHS OIG’s construction of these Conditions of Participation as including cybersecurity and cyberbreach compliance signs that Medical Participating Providers with deficient cybersecurity practices now may risk program disqualification and False Claims Act liability along with their already well-known exposure to civil monetary penalties under the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (“HIPAA”) protected health information privacy, security and data breach rules.

  • Health & Other Employee Benefit Plans. 

Health plans and other employee benefit plans, their fiduciaries, record keepers and service providers also face growing cybersecurity responsibilities and risks.  While HHS Office of Civil Rights (“OCR”) continues to clarify and expand its interpretation, investigation and enforcement of HIPAA privacy, security and data breach rules against health plans, health care providers, health care clearinghouses and their business associates, the Department of Labor Employee Benefit Security Administration is turning up the heat on employee benefit plan fiduciaries to prudently protect their employee benefit plan assets and participants against cyberthreats.

On April 14, 2021, the Department of Labor Employee Benefit Security Administration (“EBSA”) made official its interpretation of the duty of prudence applicable to employee benefit plan fiduciaries under Section 404 of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (“ERISA”) includes a duty for ERISA-covered employee benefit plan fiduciaries to take “appropriate precautions” to mitigate risks to plan participants and assets from both internal and external cybersecurity threats. The April 14 announcement makes official EBSA’s interpretation of the duty of prudence applicable to fiduciaries of ERISA-covered employee benefit plans as extending to a duty to act prudently to safeguard plan assets and plan participants against cybersecurity threats.

Concern about cyberthreats to private employee benefit plans covered by ERISA, their participants and beneficiaries has soared as massive data breaches  Federal Thrift Savings Plan, Anthem, Capital Onethe Public Employees Retirement Association of New Mexico and other employee benefit plans, their vendors and service providers increasingly have impacted millions of employee benefit plans, their accounts and participants.

While Congress chose to subject health plans to the detailed health privacy, security and breach rules of HIPAA and financial and certain other employee benefit plan service providers to consumer financial disclosure and data information security requirements of laws like Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act and the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act, and even employers and others conducting background and other credit checks to the  Fair Credit Reporting Act, growing awareness of the cyberthreat to employee benefits has not prompted Congress to date to extend those laws or otherwise to enact express statutory requirements for employee benefit plans and their fiduciaries.  However, private litigants and others increasingly have speculated that a fiduciary duty to safeguard plan asset against cyberthreats might be subsumed in the obligation of fiduciaries under Section 404 of ERISA at all times to act with “the care, skill, prudence, and diligence under the circumstances then prevailing that a prudent man acting in a like capacity and familiar with such matters would use in the conduct of an enterprise of a like character and with like aims.” See, e.g., See Record $16M Anthem HIPAA Settlement Signals Need to Tighten Your Health Plan HIPAA Compliance & Risk Management.

While EBSA has worked to formulate its recently announced positions, private litigants increasingly have begun debating the applicability and effect of ERISA on cyberbreaches involving ERISA regulated plans.  See e.g., In re Anthem, Inc. Data Breach Litig., No. 15-CV-04739-LHK, 2015 WL 7443779, at *1 (N.D. Cal. Nov. 24, 2015)(holding Anthem entitled under ERISA to remove claims to federal court and refusing employee benefit plan participants’ motion to remand to state court state claims arising from data breach); In re Anthem, Inc. Data Breach Litig., No. 15-MD-02617-LHK, 2016 WL 3029783 (N.D. Cal. May 27, 2016)(refusing to dismiss participant claims against non-Anthem defendants for lack of standing), motion reconsideration denied In re Anthem, Inc. Data Breach Litig., No. 15-CV-04739-LHK, 2016 WL 324386 (N.D. Cal. Jan. 27, 2016); Bartnett v. Abbott Lab’ys, No. 20-CV-02127, 2021 WL 428820, at *5 (N.D. Ill. Feb. 8, 2021) (dismissing breach of fiduciary duty claim based on inadequate evidence); In re: Premera Blue Cross Customer Data Sec. Breach Litig., No. 3:15-MD-2633-SI, 2017 WL 539578, at *21 (D. Or. Feb. 9, 2017). While mostly unsuccessful to date for procedural or factual sufficiency reasons, the preemption issues argued in many of these cases support concerns that under the proper circumstances ERISA could apply to breaches involving plans or their participants.  As these and other actions continue to wind their way through the courts, EBSA also has begun to acknowledge that ERISA plan fiduciaries duties of prudence include cybersecurity responsibilities.

EBSA’s first official recognition of a cybersecurity responsibility by plan fiduciaries appears in the Default Electronic Disclosure by Employee Pension Benefit Plans Under ERISA Final Rule (the “Electronic Disclosure Rule”), which took effect July 27, 2020 . In the discussion of its requirements regarding website-based electronic disclosures in Subpart (e)(3), the Electronic Disclosure Rule requires that “[T]he administrator must take measures reasonably calculated to ensure that the website protects the confidentiality of personal information relating to any covered individual.”  Similarly, the requirements for using e-mail to provide electronic disclosures in Subsection (k)(4) of the Electronic Disclosure Rule require the plan administrator to take “measures reasonably calculated to protect the confidentiality of personal information relating to the covered individual.”  While recognizing these cyber security responsibilities in the Electronic Disclosure Rule, however,  EBSA explained in the Preamble to the Electronic Disclosure Rule that it decided not to include more cumbersome cybersecurity requirements in the Electronic Disclosure Rule out of concern over the cost and other burdens of such requirements.  Nevertheless, the Electronic Disclosure Rule imposed a responsibility by plan fiduciaries of employee benefit plans making electronic disclosures to ensure that electronic recordkeeping systems have in place reasonable controls, adequate records management practice, and other measures calculated to protect Personally Identifiable Information.

EBSA’s April 14, 2021 reflects EBSA now views the fiduciary responsibilities of ERISA-covered employee benefit plan fiduciaries generally as including the responsibility to take “appropriate precautions” to mitigate risks to plan participants and assets from both internal and external cybersecurity threats. Beyond acknowledging a duty to take prudent steps to protect plans assets and participants against internal and external cybersecurity threats, EBSA also shared the following three resources to help plan sponsors, fiduciaries and participants to safeguard benefit plans and personal information against emerging cyber threats:

  • Tips for Hiring a Service Provider: Helps plan sponsors and fiduciaries prudently select a service provider with strong cybersecurity practices and monitor their activities, as ERISA requires.
  • Cybersecurity Program Best Practices: Assists plan fiduciaries and record-keepers in their responsibilities to manage cybersecurity risks.
  • Online Security Tips: Offers plan participants and beneficiaries who check their retirement accounts online basic rules to reduce the risk of fraud and loss.
  • Participants in Securities Markets, Market Infrastructure Providers & Vendors. 

Meanwhile the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) also has made clear its expectation that all firms participating in the securities markets, market infrastructure providers and vendors will appropriately monitor, assess and manage their cybersecurity risk profiles, including their operational resiliency. Consistent with the shared understanding of best cybersecurity practices shared with the agencies, the SEC guidance makes clear its market involved and impacting regulated entities are accountable for maintaining and enforcing appropriate internal and external controls to prevent, detect and redress cybersecurity threats, including appropriate board governance and risk management, access rights and controls, data loss prevention,mobile security, incident response and resiliency, vendor management, training and awareness and other practices.  See  SEC Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations Cybersecurity and Resiliency Observations.  Recently announced enforcement actions demonstrate that the SEC is acting on its promise to go after SEC regulated entities that breach these expectations.  See, e.g., SEC Announces Three Actions Charging Deficient Cybersecurity Procedures.

These and other recently announced federal regulatory and enforcement developments send a clear message to businesses and their leadership, employee benefit plan sponsors, fiduciaries, record keepers and other vendors, SEC securities market involved organizations and others to clean up their cybersecurity compliance and risk management.  Beyond the governmental enforcement risks these developments signal, these and other emerging regulatory developments provide added fuel for the already substantial private litigant and government complaints, investigations and prosecutions against businesses, their leaders, their employee benefit plan fiduciaries, record keepers and other service providers,and others.   and their leaders unable to defend the adequacy of their cybersecurity related practices.

Raise Cybersecurity Compliance & Defenses To Mitigate Risks & Liabilities

In the face of these developments, all businesses, employee benefit plan fiduciaries, their employer and other sponsors, record keepers and other vendors and their leaders should prioritize cybersecurity compliance, risk management, oversight and controls.  As part of these efforts, organizations and their leaders should move quickly to position themselves to defend against potential investigation and enforcement risks created by these emerging policies. These efforts should seek to ensure compliance with all applicable statutory, regulatory and contractual requirements as well as institutionalize the necessary operational controls to protect systems, data and operations from cyber breaches and other threats, to detect and redress cyber events promptly, and to ensure that the organization otherwise can demonstrate both their compliance efforts, as well as their timely prudent detection, investigation, reporting, mitigation and remediation in response to actual or suspected cyber threats or other compliance breaches.

Efforts should begin by taking carefully crafted, well-documented documented steps to prudently evaluate and strengthen  cybersecurity and breach safeguards and compliance, as well as prudently to assess and verify those of their vendors and others involved with their employee benefit plans or their administration within the scope of attorney-client privilege.

Assessments should take into account all existing required statutory, regulatory, and contractual controls and practices, documentation and other procedures.  In addition, organizations should consider the advisability of adopting other “best practice” safeguards or actions taking into account relevant agency guidance and resources,  government or other contracts, other industry or related standards, known and suspected breaches, “red flags” and threats, their own, their vendor and business partner and other risk profiles and experience, and other factors likely to be viewed as prudent under the circumstances.

In assessing, designing and administering the cybersecurity processes, organizations and their leaders should give due attention to assessing and addressing the adequacy of their internal and external controls to ensure the adequacy of their systems, processes, oversight and response practices and capabilities as of the time of the assessment and on an ongoing basis.  Beyond establishing required policies and formal controls, organization should ensure that their organizations have in place the necessary policies and practices to monitor and control cyberthreats arising from conduct and risks created by employees and other internal workforce, vendors and other parties interacting with the business and its operations.  As part of these efforts, most organizations will need to evaluate their contractual obligations and requirements for vendors, suppliers and others interacting with their businesses. Beyond general contractual compliance obligations, organizations should weigh requiring contractors, suppliers and other business partners to make specific commitments to maintain and monitor compliance and other risks, to provide timely notice and reports, to cooperate with audits and investigations necessary or advisable to respond to private or government complaints, government or other investigation, reporting or other requirements, their own compliance and risk assessments, audits and investigations and other compliance and risk management efforts.  Organizations also should give careful attention and review the adequacy of protections and responsibilities arising from contractual cybersecurity and breach notice, investigation, cooperation, indemnification,  insurance and other associated protections and cooperation.

Organizations also should consider establishing and administering processes for independent monitoring of regulatory, news, and other reports that could provide early warning of potential cybersecurity weaknesses, threats and breaches.

All processes should include appropriate governance, oversight and reporting to provide for ongoing monitoring and oversight necessary to identify and respond to evolving risks arising in the course of their operations as well as consistent practices for carefully documenting their compliance and risk management compliance efforts.

Because of the frequently high cost of breach investigation, response and mitigation, most organizations will want to consider securing cyber liability or other coverage, require vendors and other business partners to provide cyber liability indemnifications backed up with insurance or other adequate assurance of their ability to fulfill these financial responsibilities.

 More Information

We hope this update is helpful. For more information about or assistance with these or other workforce, internal controls and compliance or other legal, management or public policy developments, please contact the author Cynthia Marcotte Stamer via e-mail or via telephone at (214) 452 -8297.

Solutions Law Press, Inc. invites you receive future updates by registering on our Solutions Law Press, Inc. Website and participating and contributing to the discussions in our Solutions Law Press, Inc. LinkedIn SLP Health Care Risk Management & Operations GroupHR & Benefits Update Compliance Group, and/or Coalition for Responsible Health Care Policy.

About the Author

Recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: ERISA & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for 30+ years of health industry and other management work, public policy leadership and advocacy, coaching, teachings, and publications.

Scribe for the ABA JCEB Annual Agency Meeting with HHS-OCR, and author of the “Medical Privacy” Chapter in the BNA/ERISA Litigation Treatise, the “Other Torts Chapter” in the BNA/ABA E-Heath & Other Torts Treatise, “Privacy and the Pandemic Workshop” for the Association of State and Territorial Health Plans, as well as a multitude of other highly regarded data privacy and security, workforce and health care change and crisis management and other highly regarded publications and presentations, Ms. Stamer is widely recognized for her decades of pragmatic, leading edge work, scholarship and thought leadership on health and other privacy and data security and other health industry legal, public policy and operational concerns.

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer’s work throughout her 30 plus year career has focused heavily on working with private and public employer, health care and managed care, health and other employee benefit plan, insurance and financial services and other public and private organizations and their technology, data, and other service providers and advisors domestically and internationally with legal and operational compliance and risk management, performance and workforce management, regulatory and public policy and other legal and operational concerns.  In the course of this work, she has had extensive involvement in the design, administration and defense of payroll, employee benefit, insurance, securities, trade secret and other confidential information and other internal and external record and data systems and processes as well as investigation, reporting, redress and mitigation of cyber and other incidents.

As a part of this work, she has continuously and extensively worked with domestic and international health and other employee benefit plans, their sponsors, fiduciaries, administrators, and insurers; managed care and insurance organizations; hospitals, health care systems, clinics, skilled nursing, long term care, rehabilitation and other health care providers and facilities; medical staff, accreditation, peer review and quality committees and organizations; billing, utilization management, management services organizations, group purchasing organizations; pharmaceutical, pharmacy, and prescription benefit management and organizations; consultants; investors; EHR, claims, payroll and other technology, billing and reimbursement and other services and product vendors; products and solutions consultants and developers; investors; managed care organizations, self-insured health and other employee benefit plans, their sponsors, fiduciaries, administrators and service providers, insurers and other payers, health industry advocacy and other service providers and groups and other health and managed care industry clients as well as federal and state legislative, regulatory, investigatory and enforcement bodies and agencies.  She also has extensive experience dealing with OCR Privacy and Civil Rights, Department of Labor, IRS, HHS, DOD, FTC, SEC, CDC and other public health, Department of Justice and state attorneys’ general and other federal and state agencies; JCHO and other accreditation and quality organizations; private litigation and other federal and state health care industry actions: regulatory and public policy advocacy; training and discipline; enforcement;  and other strategic and operational concerns.

American Bar Association (ABA) International Section Life Sciences Committee Vice Chair, a Scribe for the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits (JCEB) Annual OCR Agency Meeting, current RPTE Welfare Benefit Committee Co-Chair and former Chair of its Fiduciary Responsibility, Plan Terminations and Distributions and Defined Contribution Plan Committees, a former JCEB Council Representative, Past Chair of the ABA Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, former SHRM Consultants Board and Region IV Chair, former Texas Association of Business Board, BACPAC Board and Dallas Chapter Chair, former Vice President and Executive Director of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, past Board President of Richardson Development Center (now Warren Center) for Children Early Childhood Intervention Agency, past North Texas United Way Long Range Planning Committee Member, and past Board Member and Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas.

Ms. Stamer also shares her extensive publications and thought leadership as well as leadership involvement in a broad range of other professional and civic organizations. For more information about Ms. Stamer or her health industry and other experience and involvements, see www.cynthiastamer.com or contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (214) 452-8297 or via e-mail here.

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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Agencies Release of 3rd Surprise Billing Reminder Time Short For Health Plans To Prepare For 2022 Compliance Deadline; Learn More in 10/17 Briefing

September 30, 2021

Yesterday’s release by the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, Treasury and the Office of Personnel Management (“Agencies”) release yesterday (September 30, 2021) an a third interim final rule (“3rd Rule”) implementing requirements applicable to health plans and health care providers enacted under the No Surprises Act (the “Act) warns health plans, their employer and other sponsors, insurers, fiduciaries and service providers time is running out to update their plans, contracts and practices to prepare to meet comply with the Act when its rules take effect in 2022.

The release of the 3rd Rule yesterday follows the Agencies’ issuance of an interim final rule on consumer protections against surprise billing (“1st Rule”) in July and a proposed rule to help collect data on the air ambulance provider industry (“2nd Rule”) earlier in September, both of which take effect on January 1, 2022.The rules implement the Act’s ban on surprise billing for emergency services and ancillary care at in-network facilities, and limit high out-of-network cost sharing for emergency and non-emergency services by prohibiting them from being higher than if such services were provided in-network. In addition to the Act’s requirements implemented by these three rule packages, health plans and health providers also need to begin preparing to comply with new rules regarding prescription drug coverages and various other requirements of the Act, as well as a plethora of regulatory and market changes impacting health plans and their administration that have emerged over the past year.

Solutions Law Press, Inc. is hosting a complimentary briefing by Cynthia Marcotte Stamer on key requirements of the Act expected to impact health plans and their administration on Monday, October 18, 2021 from 11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Central Time. Registration is limited. Persons interested in attending should e-mail here to request registration as soon as possible.

Act’s Surprise Billing Ban

The Act seeks to protect patients from surprise bills and remove them from the middle of payment disputes between out-of-network providers, facilities, or providers of air ambulance services and health plans or issuers.

The Act seeks to protect patients from surprise bills and remove them from the middle of payment disputes between out-of-network providers, facilities, or providers of air ambulance services and health plans or issuers.

The 1st Rule published on July 1, 2021 states that, beginning in 2022, patients will only be required to pay cost sharing based on in-network rates for certain out-of-network emergency services, out-of-network non-emergency services at in-network facilities and out-of-network air ambulance services.

The 3rd Rule builds on this work and details how the total payment to an out-of-network provider or facility will be determined. In some cases – based on the law – state law or application of a state All-Payer Model Agreement will determine this amount. Where neither applies, the rule sets forth the federal process that will apply for determining the amount. When a payment dispute for items/services that fall under surprise billing protections occur, either a provider, facility, or air ambulance provider or plan/issuer may initiate a 30-day open negotiation period. If open negotiation fails, either party may initiate the federal independent dispute resolution process. This rule details how this process initiates, what is eligible for this process and how independent dispute resolution entities should consider factors when determining a payment amount.

Self Pay Patient’s Good Faith Estimate Requirements

In added consumer protections, today’s 3rd Rule also outlines key requirements related to uninsured (or self-pay) individuals. Self-pay individuals are individuals who have coverage but do not choose to have their care billed to their health plan or issuer. When individuals schedule an item or service with certain providers and facilities, those providers and facilities will be required to inquire about the individual’s health coverage status, and if the individual wants their care billed to their health plan or issuer.

The provider or facility must provide a good faith estimate of expected charges for the care they are scheduling for individuals deemed uninsured (or self-pay). An uninsured (or self-pay) individual may also request a good faith estimate, without scheduling an item or services. The rule also establishes a process for uninsured (or self-pay) individuals to initiate a payment dispute resolution process if they are ultimately billed substantially in excess of the good faith estimate they received.

Time Running Short To Complete Compliance Preparations

The Act’s restrictions on balance billing of out of network and self pay services, along with new rules regarding prescription drug coverage and various other health benefit rules are scheduled to take effect under the Act beginning in January, 2022 as well as a host of other statutory, regulatory and market changes impacting health benefit programs for the upcoming year. Aside from the complexities of meeting the direct requirements of the rules, health plans and their sponsors, fiduciaries, administrators and advisors working to update their plans also will need to determine and decide how to respond to state law regulatory surprise billing and other price transparency and balance billing rules that the Act and its implementing regulations incorporate. Employer and other health plan sponsors, health plan fiduciaries and their service providers need to confirm the necessary arrangement are prepared in a timely fashion to ensure their health plans are designed and administered to comply with these requirements. In addition to updating plan documents, contracts, and processes, health plans, their sponsors, fiduciaries, administrative service providers and others likely need to review budget forecasts, stop loss and other insurance, participant and provider communications, systems, and a host of other operating features of their programs. Given the emerging nature of the guidance, meeting current deadlines are likely to prove challenging. Accordingly health plan sponsors, administrators, fiduciaries, insurers, and advisors should move quickly to begin preparations.

More Information

We hope this update is helpful. For more information about the these or other health or other legal, management or public policy developments, please contact the author Cynthia Marcotte Stamer via e-mail or via telephone at (214) 452 -8297.  

Solutions Law Press, Inc. invites you receive future updates by registering on our Solutions Law Press, Inc. Website and participating and contributing to the discussions in our Solutions Law Press, Inc. LinkedIn SLP Health Care Risk Management & Operations GroupHR & Benefits Update Compliance Group, and/or Coalition for Responsible Health Care Policy.  

About the Author

Recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: ERISA & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for 30+ years of health industry and other management work, public policy leadership and advocacy, coaching, teachings, and publications. As a significant part of her work, Ms. Stamer has worked extensively on pandemic, business and other crisis planning, preparedness and response for more than 30 years.

Scribe for the ABA JCEB Annual Agency Meeting with HHS-OCR, Vice Chair of the ABA International Section Life Sciences Committee, past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group and the ABA RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group, Ms. Stamer is most widely recognized for her decades of pragmatic, leading edge work, scholarship and thought leadership on health and other privacy and data security and other health industry legal, public policy and operational concerns.  Ms. Stamer’s work throughout her 30 plus year career has focused heavily on working with health care and managed care, health and other employee benefit plan, insurance and financial services and other public and private organizations and their technology, data, and other service providers and advisors domestically and internationally with legal and operational compliance and risk management, performance and workforce management, regulatory and public policy and other legal and operational concerns.  As a part of this work, she has continuously and extensively worked with domestic and international health plans, their sponsors, fiduciaries, administrators, and insurers; managed care and insurance organizations; hospitals, health care systems, clinics, skilled nursing, long term care, rehabilitation and other health care providers and facilities; medical staff, accreditation, peer review and quality committees and organizations; billing, utilization management, management services organizations, group purchasing organizations; pharmaceutical, pharmacy, and prescription benefit management and organizations; consultants; investors; EHR, claims, payroll and other technology, billing and reimbursement and other services and product vendors; products and solutions consultants and developers; investors; managed care organizations, self-insured health and other employee benefit plans, their sponsors, fiduciaries, administrators and service providers, insurers and other payers, health industry advocacy and other service providers and groups and other health and managed care industry clients as well as federal and state legislative, regulatory, investigatory and enforcement bodies and agencies.  

This  involvement encompasses helping health care systems and organizations, group and individual health care providers, health plans and insurers, health IT, life sciences and other health industry clients prevent, investigate, manage and resolve  sexual assault, abuse, harassment and other organizational, provider and employee misconduct and other performance and behavior; manage Section 1557, Civil Rights Act and other discrimination and accommodation, and other regulatory, contractual and other compliance; vendors and suppliers; contracting and other terms of participation, medical billing, reimbursement, claims administration and coordination, Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP, Medicare/Medicaid Advantage, ERISA and other payers and other provider-payer relations, contracting, compliance and enforcement; Form 990 and other nonprofit and tax-exemption; fundraising, investors, joint venture, and other business partners; quality and other performance measurement, management, discipline and reporting; physician and other workforce recruiting, performance management, peer review and other investigations and discipline, wage and hour, payroll, gain-sharing and other pay-for performance and other compensation, training, outsourcing and other human resources and workforce matters; board, medical staff and other governance; strategic planning, process and quality improvement; meaningful use, EHR, HIPAA and other technology,  data security and breach and other health IT and data; STARK, ant kickback, insurance, and other fraud prevention, investigation, defense and enforcement; audits, investigations, and enforcement actions; trade secrets and other intellectual property; crisis preparedness and response; internal, government and third-party licensure, credentialing, accreditation, HCQIA and other peer review and quality reporting, audits, investigations, enforcement and defense; patient relations and care;  internal controls and regulatory compliance; payer-provider, provider-provider, vendor, patient, governmental and community relations; facilities, practice, products and other sales, mergers, acquisitions and other business and commercial transactions; government procurement and contracting; grants; tax-exemption and not-for-profit; privacy and data security; training; risk and change management; regulatory affairs and public policy; process, product and service improvement, development and innovation, and other legal and operational compliance and risk management, government and regulatory affairs and operations concerns. to establish, administer and defend workforce and staffing, quality, and other compliance, risk management and operational practices, policies and actions; comply with requirements; investigate and respond to Board of Medicine, Health, Nursing, Pharmacy, Chiropractic, and other licensing agencies, Department of Aging & Disability, FDA, Drug Enforcement Agency, OCR Privacy and Civil Rights, Department of Labor, IRS, HHS, DOD, FTC, SEC, CDC and other public health, Department of Justice and state attorneys’ general and other federal and state agencies; JCHO and other accreditation and quality organizations; private litigation and other federal and state health care industry actions: regulatory and public policy advocacy; training and discipline; enforcement;  and other strategic and operational concerns.  

Author of “Privacy and the Pandemic Workshop” for the Association of State and Territorial Health Plans, as well as a multitude of other health industry matters, workforce and health care change and crisis management and other highly regarded publications and presentations, the American Bar Association (ABA) International Section Life Sciences Committee Vice Chair, a Scribe for the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits (JCEB) Annual OCR Agency Meeting and a former Council Representative, Past Chair of the ABA Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, former Vice President and Executive Director of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, past Board President of Richardson Development Center (now Warren Center) for Children Early Childhood Intervention Agency, past North Texas United Way Long Range Planning Committee Member, and past Board Member and Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, and a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer also shares her extensive publications and thought leadership as well as leadership involvement in a broad range of other professional and civic organizations. For more information about Ms. Stamer or her health industry and other experience and involvements, see www.cynthiastamer.com or contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (214) 452-8297 or via e-mail here.  

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ provides human resources and employee benefit and other business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other coaching, tools and other resources, training and education on leadership, governance, human resources, employee benefits, data security and privacy, insurance, health care and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ resources available here.  

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IRS Gives Employers Guidance On Claiming ARP Tax Credits For Paid COVID Leave

April 27, 2021

Small and midsize employers and government employers interested in claiming refundable tax credits allowed by the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (“ARP”) to reimburse the employer for the cost of providing ARP-mandated paid sick and family leave to their employees due to COVID-19 (“COVID Leave”) between April 1, 2021 and September 30, 2021 should review the new fact sheet designated FS-2021-09 (“FS-2021-9”) published by the Internal Revenue Service on April 21, 2021.

ARP Paid Sick And Family Leave For Which Tax Credits Can Be Claimed

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”) required employers with 500 or fewer employees to provide employees with paid sick leave (“COVID Paid Leave”) or expanded family and medical leave (“COVID Unpaid Leave”) for specified reasons (“COVID Events”) related to COVID-19 through December 31, 2020, but provided for Covered Employers to be reimbursed for these expenditures through employment tax credits claimed by the employer.

Although the FFCRA COVID Paid Leave mandate expired on December 31, 2021 and was not revived or extended by ARP, ARP preserved and extended the availability of the employment tax credits for eligible employers opting to voluntarily continue to provide COVID Paid Leave for all employees between December 31, 2021 and September 30, 2021.  Thus, ARP authorizes employers of 500 or fewer employees that voluntarily provide COVID Paid Leave for all employees to claim a tax credit against their employment taxes.

While the FFCRA mandate was in effect, Covered Employers generally were required to excuse from work and pay the a percentage of the employee’s regular pay up to the specified statutory cap (“COVID Pay”) to any employee unable to work due to a COVID Event until the first work shift that begins on or after the earlier of the following dates:

  • The termination of the need for the COVID Paid Leave; or
  • The date the employee exhausts his maximum entitlement to Paid COVID Leave.

Employers Eligible To Claim ARP Tax Credit

The ARP tax credits generally are available to any eligible employer that voluntarily pays the COVID Paid Leave previously mandated by FFCRA through September 30, 2021.  An eligible employer is any business, including a tax-exempt organization, with fewer than 500 employees. An eligible employer also includes a governmental employer, other than the federal government and any agency or instrumentality of the federal government that is not an organization described in section 501(c)(1) of the Internal Revenue Code. Self-employed individuals also are eligible for similar tax credits.  FS-2021-9 clarifies how employers that provide COVID Paid Leave can claim the ARP employment tax credits.

ARP Tax Credit Amounts

The ARP paid leave credits are tax credits against the employer’s share of the Medicare tax. The tax credits are refundable, which means that the employer is entitled to payment of the full amount of the credits if it exceeds the employer’s share of the Medicare tax.

The tax credit for paid sick leave wages is equal to the sick leave wages paid for COVID-19 related reasons for up to 80 hours for full-time employees (or for each part-time employee, up to the average number of hours such employee works over a 2-week period), limited to $511 per day and $5,110 in the aggregate, at 100 percent of the employee’s regular rate of pay. The tax credit for paid family leave wages is equal to the family leave wages paid for up to twelve weeks, limited to $200 per day and $12,000 in the aggregate, at 2/3rds of the employee’s regular rate of pay. The amount of these tax credits is increased by allocable health plan expenses and contributions for certain collectively bargained benefits, as well as the employer’s share of social security and Medicare taxes paid on the wages (up to the respective daily and total caps).

Claiming The Credit

Eligible employers may claim tax credits for sick and family leave paid to employees, including leave taken to receive or recover from COVID-19 vaccinations, for leave  between April 1, 2021, through September 30, 2021.

Eligible employers report their total paid sick and family leave wages (plus the eligible health plan expenses and collectively bargained contributions and the eligible employer’s share of social security and Medicare taxes on the paid leave wages) for each quarter on their federal employment tax return.  Form 941, Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return is used by most employers to report income tax and social security and Medicare taxes withheld from employee wages, as well as the employer’s own share of social security and Medicare taxes.

In anticipation of claiming the credits on the Form 941, FS-2021-9 confirms eligible employers can keep the federal employment taxes that they otherwise would have deposited, including federal income tax withheld from employees, the employees’ share of social security and Medicare taxes and the eligible employer’s share of social security and Medicare taxes with respect to all employees up to the amount of credit for which they are eligible. The Form 941 instructions  explain how to reflect the reduced liabilities for the quarter related to the deposit schedule.

If an eligible employer does not have enough federal employment taxes set aside for deposit to cover amounts provided as paid sick and family leave wages (plus the eligible health plan expenses and collectively bargained contributions and the eligible employer’s share of social security and Medicare taxes on the paid leave wages), the eligible employer may request an advance of the credits by filing Form 7200, Advance Payment of Employer Credits Due to COVID-19. The eligible employer will account for the amounts received as an advance when it files its Form 941for the relevant quarter.

FS-2021-9 states that self-employed individuals may claim comparable tax credits on their individual Form 1040, U.S. Individual Income Tax Return.

Reminder About Complying With ARP COVID-19 Premium Subsidy Mandates

Employers also should keep in mind that while ARP made paying COVID Paid Leave voluntary, compliance with ARP’s COVID Premium Subsidy rule is mandatory for covered group health plans and their sponsors.  Covered group health plans generally include all group health plans sponsored by private-sector employers or employee organizations (unions) subject to the COBRA rules under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA); group health plans sponsored by State or local governments subject to the continuation provisions under the Public Health Service Act and group health insurance required to comply with state mini-COBRA laws.

ARP’s COBRA Premium Subsidy rules dictate that covered group health plans offer and allow individuals previously enrolled in employee or dependent coverage who qualify as “assistance eligible individuals” to reinstate if necessary and continue health benefits by enrolling in continuation coverage under the Consolidated Omnibus Reconciliation Act (“COBRA Coverage”) at no charge during their applicable Premium Subsidy Period, but simultaneously allows employer or other sponsors of these group health plans to claim an employment tax credit to reimburse the employer or other health plan sponsor for the amount of the foregone COBRA premiums.

Assistance eligible individuals generally are COBRA qualified beneficiaries who lost coverage under the group health plan due to an involuntary reduction in hours or termination of employment enrolled in COBRA Coverage between April 1, 2021 and September 31, 2021 including those qualifying event was an involuntary employment loss occurring during the 18-month period (29-months for individuals qualifying for extended COBRA eligibility due to disability) prior to April 1, 2021 not enrolled in COBRA as of April 1, 2021.  This generally includes COBRA qualified beneficiaries whose loss of group health coverage results from an involuntary employment reduction or loss for a reason other than gross misconduct after  ARP’s enactment on March 11, 2021 as well as qualified beneficiaries whose involuntary employment loss happened before the effective date who but for their previous failure to elect COBRA or to maintain COBRA Coverage would still be entitled to COBRA Coverage because less than 18 months (29 months for qualified beneficiaries disabled on the date of coverage loss who qualify for extension of the disability coverage period) has elapsed since their employment loss and an event has not occurred following the coverage termination that would terminate their COBRA eligibility before the end of such otherwise applicable maximum COBRA eligibility period.  Group health plans must offer a second opportunity to enroll in COBRA Coverage with COBRA premium assistance to qualified beneficiaries eligible for premium assistance not enrolled in COBRA Coverage as of April 1, 2021.

Assistance eligible individuals who timely enroll in COBRA Coverage with premium assistance generally must receive COBRA Coverage free of charge from the group health plan for any coverage period during the period that begins on or after April 1, 2021 until the earliest of the following dates (the “Premium Subsidy Period”):[1]

  • The date the qualified beneficiary is eligible[2] for coverage under any other group health plan (other than coverage consisting of only excepted benefits,[3] coverage under a health flexible spending arrangement under Code Section 106(c)(2), coverage under a qualified small employer health reimbursement arrangement under Code Section 9831(d)(2) or eligible for benefits under the Medicare program under title XVIII of the Social Security Act;
  • The date of the expiration of the otherwise applicable maximum period of COBRA continuation coverage under Code Section 4980B (other than due to a failure to elect or discontinuation of coverage for nonpayment of COBRA premium that occurred before April 1, 2021).

To implement these rules, ARP also requires that no later than May 31, 2021, covered group health plan administrators notify eligible qualified beneficiaries eligible to obtain COBRA coverage due to a reduction in hours or termination of employment with premium assistance during their Premium Subsidy Period.  In addition to notifying employees and dependents experiencing employment loss related terminations of group health plan coverage of these rules on or after April 1, 2021, the ARP COBRA Premium Subsidy rules also require covered group health plans to notify certain former covered employees or dependents that lost coverage due to a loss of reduction in hours of employment within the last 18 (or in the case of an individual disabled on the date of the loss of coverage meeting certain other rules, potentially 29) months prior to April 1, 2021 qualify to enroll in COBRA coverage at no cost from April 1, 2021 through the end of the Premium Subsidy Period.  Group health plans also are required to send a notification to assistance eligible individuals that elect to enroll using the COBRA Premium Subsidy when their COBRA Premium Subsidy Period expiration is impending.

Regulatory guidance released by the Employee Benefit Security Administration on April 7, 2021 includes model notices and other preliminary guidance on the COBRA Premium Assistance Rules.

Compliance with these requirements is critical for group health plans and their employer or other sponsors.  Plans and their administrators can face administrative sanctions, lawsuits brought by assistance eligible individuals or the Department of Labor or both.  Additionally, as COBRA is one of the 40 laws listed in Internal Revenue Code section 6039D, employer or other plan sponsors of noncompliant plans could become responsible for self-identifying, reporting, self-assessing and paying excise taxes if the violation is not corrected by the due date of their business tax return (without extensions).

To mitigate the impact of complying with the COBRA Premium Subsidy rule, the employer or other entity that bears the cost of providing the COBRA Premium Subsidy should investigate and, if applicable, claim the ARP authorized employment tax credit.  Section 6432 of ARP authorizes the following party  to claim a quarterly tax credit toward the employment taxes under Internal Revenue Code section 3111(b), or so much of the taxes imposed under section 3221(a) as attributable to the rate in effect under section 3111(b), for each calendar quarter.  The amount of the available tax credit is equal to the premiums paid on behalf of the assistance eligible individuals for COBRA Coverage under the COBRA Premium Subsidy rule:

  • If the group health plan is a “multiemployer plan” under ERISA section 3(37), the plan;
  • If the group health plan is not a multiemployer plan and either (a) subject to COBRA or (b) is a plan under which some or all of the coverage is not provided by insurance, and (c), is not a multiemployer plan, the employer; and
  • In the case of any group health plan not described in paragraph (1) or (2), the insurer providing the coverage under the group health plan.

The credit allowed under these provisions for any calendar quarter can’t exceed the tax imposed under those sections for the calendar quarter (reduced by any credits allowed against such taxes under sections 3131, 3132, and 3134) on the wages paid with respect to the employment of all employees of the employer.  Rather, ARP provides that if the amount of the credit allowed exceeds the amount of tax due for that calendar quarter, such excess is treated as an overpayment refundable under Code sections 6402(a) and 6413(b).   Moreover, ARP allows for the credit, including the refundable portion under subparagraph (A),to be advanced, according to forms and instructions provided by the Secretary through the end of the most recent payroll period in the quarter and authorizes the Secretary of Treasury to waive any penalty under section 6656 for any failure to make a deposit of the employment taxes tax imposed by section 3111(b) or section 3221(a)  where the failure was due to the anticipation of the credit allowed under this section.

ARP includes various other rules regarding the calculation and claiming of the credits and for handling situations where assistance eligible individuals make payments which should have been waived.  The Department of Treasury is expected to issue guidance about these and other details of regarding the COBRA Premium Subsidy rules tax credit provisions soon.  Stay tuned for added guidance.

More Information

If you need assistance or would like additional information about these or other legal, management or public policy developments, please contact the author Cynthia Marcotte Stamer via e-mail or via telephone at (214) 452 -8297.

Solutions Law Press, Inc. also invites you receive future updates by registering here and participating and contributing to the discussions in our Solutions Law Press, Inc. LinkedIn SLP Health Care Risk Management & Operations GroupHR & Benefits Update Compliance Group, and/or Coalition for Responsible Health Care Policy. If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information including your preferred e-mail by creating your profile here. For specific information about the these or other legal, management or public policy developments, please contact the author Cynthia Marcotte Stamer via e-mail or via telephone at (214) 452 -8297.

About the Author

Recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: ERISA & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for 30+ years working as an on demand, special project, consulting, general counsel or other basis with domestic and international business, charitable, community and government organizations of all types, sizes and industries and their leaders on labor and employment and other workforce compliance, performance management, internal controls and governance, compensation and benefits, regulatory compliance, investigations and audits, change management and restructuring, disaster preparedness and response and other operational, risk management and tactical concerns.

Most widely recognized for her work with workforce, health care, life sciences, insurance and data and technology organizations, she also has worked extensively with health plan and insurance, employee benefits, financial, transportation, manufacturing, energy, real estate, accounting and other services, public and private academic and other education, hospitality, charitable, civic and other business, government and community organizations. and their leaders.

Ms. Stamer has extensive experience advising, representing, defending and training domestic and international public and private business, charitable, community and governmental organizations and their leaders, employee benefit plans, their fiduciaries and service providers, insurers, and others has published and spoken extensively on these concerns. As part of these involvements, she has worked, published and spoken extensively on these and other federal and state wage and hour and other compensation, discrimination, performance management, and other related human resources, employee benefits and other workforce and services; insurance; workers’ compensation and occupational disease; business reengineering, disaster and distress;  and many other risk management, compliance, public policy and performance concerns.

A former lead advisor to the Government of Bolivia on its pension  project, Ms. Stamer also has worked internationally and domestically as an advisor to business, community and government leaders on these and other legislative, regulatory and other legislative and regulatory design, drafting, interpretation and enforcement, as well as regularly advises and represents organizations on the design, administration and defense of workforce, employee benefit and compensation, safety, discipline, reengineering, regulatory and operational compliance and other management practices and actions.

Ms. Stamer also serves in leadership of a broad range of professional and civic organizations and provides insights and thought leadership through her extensive publications, public speaking and volunteer service with a diverse range of organizations including as Chair of the American Bar Association (“ABA”) Intellectual Property Section Law Practice Management Committee, Vice Chair of the International Section Life Sciences and Health Committee, Past ABA RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group Chair and Council Representative and current Welfare Benefit Committee Co-Chair, Past Chair of the ABA Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, past Region IV Chair and national Society of Human Resources Management Consultant Forum Board Member,  past Texas Association of Business BACPAC Chair, Regional Chair and Dallas Chapter Chair, former Vice President and Executive Director of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, past Board President of Richardson Development Center (now Warren Center) for Children Early Childhood Intervention Agency, past North Texas United Way Long Range Planning Committee Member, past Board Member and Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation and many others.

For more information about these concerns or Ms. Stamer’s work, experience, involvements, other publications, or programs, see www.cynthiastamer.com or contact Ms. Stamer via e-mail here.

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ provides human resources and employee benefit and other business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other coaching, tools and other resources, training and education on leadership, governance, human resources, employee benefits, data security and privacy, insurance, health care and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and operational concerns.

©2021 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.™